Swiss banks under fire for dealings with Abacha family

The Credit Suisse Group and three other banks have been criticised by the Swiss banking watchdog for accepting funds from the family of the late Nigerian dictator, Sani Abacha.

This content was published on September 4, 2000 - 17:18

In a report released on Monday, the Swiss banking commission accused the banks of serious "violations and organisational shortcomings" for failing to detect and reject deposits from what it said were "dubious" sources.

The commission's chairman, Kurt Hauri, said the fact "that assets of dubious origin were deposited at Swiss banks is highly unsatisfactory and damages the image of Switzerland as a financial centre".

However, the commission stopped short of filing criminal charges against the banks. Its director, Daniel Zuberbühler, told swissinfo that he didn't believe "any criminal offence had been committed". He said in the case of the six banks, the commission believed that naming them publicly was sufficient sanction.

Three of the banks named were part of the Credit Suisse group, including Credit Suisse Private Banking, Bank Hofmann and Bank Leu. The other three singled out for criticism were Credit Agricole Indosuez, Union Bancaire Privée and MM Warburg Bank.

Switzerland has frozen $670 million in response to Nigeria's search for funds stashed abroad by the Abacha family. Nigeria claims they also had accounts in several other countries, including Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Britain, Belgium, Germany and France.

The commission said Credit Suisse Private Banking had not exercised proper diligence in accepting deposits from two of Abacha's sons, which were worth $214 million (SFr368 million) at the end of 1999.

A spokesperson for Credit Suisse, who did not want to be identified, told swissinfo that the bank had since tightened up monitoring procedures. The spokesperson added that all those involved in dealings with Abacha's regime had since left the bank.

The banks were identified as part of a report from the commission, following a 10-month investigation into 19 banks that had business relations with the Abacha family.

Of the 19 banks investigated, the commission found that five had "fully complied with their obligations of diligence", which include "know your customer" rules as well as mechanisms to identify and examine suspect transactions.

Six others were cited for minor infringements. The remaining two are still being investigated.

The commission also pointed out that almost one third of the Abacha family assets deposited with Swiss banks had first been banked in Austria, Britain and the United States.

The Swiss finance minister, Kaspar Villiger, welcomed the report, saying it showed the commission was taking its job seriously. He added that the commission had acted totally independently in releasing the report.

Commission director, Zuberbühler, told swissinfo that the monitoring of banks would continue. "We will verify next year, with an extraordinary audit, whether measures that [the banks] have introduced work in practice and are adequate."

He added that the commission had no power to confiscate profits from illegal transactions, and could only name and shame banks, or recommend sanctions, if violations occurred.

swissinfo with agencies

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